What follows is taken from my letter to Holy Trinity Church in our April magazine in response to the mottos “Good disagreement” and “radical inclusion” which are being banded about in Church of England circles at present.
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am worried about two phrases which are being repeated in Church of England circles at this time. The phrases are “Good disagreement” and “Radical inclusion”.
Why am I worried? First, I am worried because I don’t know what these phrases mean. I am really confused. Both phrases are simplistic and blunt, lacking nuance and definition in our complex world. I want to say “Amen” if they mean one thing and “No, never Lord” if they mean another.
Secondly, I am worried because the phrases have the power to manipulate and coerce a whole community, of which we are a part. The phrases are unclear but they have already gained a subconscious meaning and power which psychologists call “groupthink”. Groupthink leads to irrational or dysfunctional decisions and unconscious bias, based on the desire for harmony and conformity in that group.
Good disagreement has quickly come to mean that two Christians can completely disagree on something as long as they are nice to each other. Good disagreement is only a different way of saying we should tolerate and respect one another’s beliefs because there is no such thing as truth, only what we believe to be true. Good disagreement is the only way of creating an uneasy peace in a post-truth culture.
And what does radical inclusion mean? Again, from the context, it is rapidly gaining support to mean that everyone is welcome in church regardless of some kinds of immoral behaviour.
And so there is real danger for bible believing Christians. If I say “I disagree with you and I believe the way you think is wrong” I break the rules of “Good Disagreement”. Who is the bad guy here? Not the person who has faulty beliefs but the person who claims to know what is right and true. Or what if I say, “Jesus said, “repent and believe, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”” I am then breaking the rules of radical inclusion. Who is the bad guy here? Not the person who behaves in a way which is unacceptable to God, but me, for breaking the rules of “radical inclusion”.
Dear brothers and sisters at Holy Trinity, don’t let yourself be swayed by sub-Christian or unbiblical mottos or phrases, even when you feel their power and “groupthink” is against you.
My memory verse this week has been Psalm 86:11, which has been a great help as I have struggled with the growing feeling of manipulation and coercion in the Church of England.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.
Believing Christians are moved by God to turn to Him to be taught his way and to walk in his truth. This is a dangerous prayer for us all. Praying “teach me your way, O Lord” means studying and knowing his word but it means more. This prayer invites God to teach us in the school of life. There is much truth which God reveals to us but which can only be learned as it is put into practice. I am so reluctant to put what I know is true into practice that God will teach me through times of discipline and hardship. There are some lessons which I need to learn which will only come through suffering and rejection as God does his work in me. And so I need not fear “groupthink” but rather fear the name of the Lord.
I believe we must reject the mottos “good disagreement” and “radical inclusion”. We need more sophisticated ways of setting expectations for the times we disagree and how to welcome folk to church. We need to echo the theology of Paul’s letter to the divided church at Ephesus. “We have received every spiritual blessing in Christ and are united as one people under Christ as our head who has broken down the dividing walls of hostility; we must walk in a manner of our calling and so maintain the bond of peace and the spirit of unity whilst we attain to to the full knowledge of Christ through the apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists as we put on the full armour of God.”
Will you pray with me for protection against manipulation in the church and for the rejection of any phrase which can be used against one another? Will you pray for true unity and acceptance in Christ as we grow up into him who is head?
With love, Neil